Apple’s Enterprise Growth: Why free OS updates play a key role

If you have become an Apple fan in the past decade or so, you are used to yearly operating system updates for free. If you have been a Mac user longer than that, you remember actually paying for OS updates every 18 months or so. I know Halloween is coming up, so I’ll inform you of something even scarier: we had to wait in a line to buy a new version of OS X on a CD. While we’ve gotten used to free OS updates as consumers, it has been a big help to Apple in the enterprise. This week, I want to explain why frequent and free OS updates are a big help for Apple’s growth in the enterprise.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

The strategy for IT departments used to be to deploy and keep everything the same. They would block software updates until they absolutely had to deploy them. They kept buying Windows XP until Microsoft stopped selling it (same for Windows 7). Some consumers love change, but a lot of users hate it. When change happens across an organization, it requires a lot of testing and re-training for employees. Even some UI changes can require hours of training when considering your entire organization. Because IT departments would move slowly, when change happened, it was usually drastic.

There was also another reason IT departments didn’t want to upgrade a computer’s operating system: cost. Let’s go back to our $129 Mac OS X upgrade. Imagine if you had 500 machines? That’s a lot of money for an operating system that likely didn’t make a business more money and also created technical problems and required re-training. I wasn’t working with Apple in the enterprise during those days, but I am not sure, how the upgrade process would even work? Since the upgrade came on a disc, pushing it out over the network would have likely been troublesome (if it was even possible). Would IT departments want to spend $65,000 to upgrade 500 machines in order to get new Dashboard widgets?

“We’ve found that end users feel more productive and creative when they are able to choose Apple at work. Free operating system updates removes a critical barrier to upgrading – cost – so that more end users can enjoy the latest features from Apple, while admins and executives have peace of mind that their managed devices are on the most secure OS version,” said Garrett Denney, product marketing manager, Jamf Pro. “Free operating system updates help admins unify their managed devices on the most current version of the OS. From a more secure filesystem architecture to the hotly anticipated Dark Mode, Apple consistently delivers new value through operating system updates. By removing cost as a barrier to upgrading, Apple is able to empower more end users and more admins than any other ecosystem.”

Apple’s Growth in Enterprise

Today, upgrading isn’t just about new features. It’s also important in our ever-connected world. Security is an ever-moving target, and we see our share of zero-day exploits that require immediate action for IT departments to remain secure. In the iOS world, we’ve seen Apple release multiple updates within a month of iOS 13’s availability. If Apple was still charging even $29 for OS updates (Snow Leopard was a $29 upgrade), you’d likely see business customers wait on hardware refreshes before they updated. In turn, this would force Apple to continue supporting old OS’ for business customers. Because everything is now free, Apple can quickly recommend that all enterprise customers move ahead as quickly as possible. While they are losing on out some potential software revenue, they certainly make it up in IT departments deploying Apple products when they otherwise might not.

For IT departments who buy iPads, iPhones, Macs, and Apple TVs (for digital signage), they can be confident they will have free access to the latest OS updates with an easy way to deploy them. If you’re an IT person, you may also want to make a bootable version of Catalina as well.


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